Facebook takes on Google et al by offering AI tech for free

11 Dec 2015

Joining an increasingly long line of companies, Facebook is making the designs behind its server used to power its AI technology open source.

Facebook and AI technology have become intrinsically linked, with its 1bn-plus users’ news feeds curated to advertisers and their interests to within an inch of its life, all thanks to its rather powerful AI algorithms.

Powering this, for the last number of years, has been Facebook’s own computer servers – Big Sur – which are now somewhat obsolete, thanks to the company developing the second generation of server, which is reportedly twice as powerful as the one that preceded it.

According to Facebook’s blog post on the matter, though, the company has taken the increasingly industry standard approach when it comes to AI technology by making the schematics for the newer Big Sur server open source.

By making the designs for its new processing powerhouse of eight GPUs open source, Facebook will hope that AI researchers will be able to do them a favour and help it fine tune the process even further.

Big Sur Facebook

The new, open source Big Sur server. Image via Facebook

Like every good open source technology, the new Big Sur, Facebook says, is geared towards being as easy to operate as possible, with as little tinkering with as necessary to boost its performance.

“We’ve removed the components that don’t get used very much, and components that fail relatively frequently — such as hard drives and DIMMs — can now be removed and replaced in a few seconds,” it said.

Even the motherboard can be removed within a minute, whereas on the original AI hardware platform it would take over an hour. In fact, Big Sur is almost entirely toolless — the CPU heat sinks are the only things you need a screwdriver for.

Facebook’s decision to make its technology open source might have seemed a rather baffling thing to do even just a few years ago, but it now joins other major companies, such as Google, which only recently released its AI program TensorFlow completely open source to speed up its speech recognition and image searching capabilities.

Server room image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic